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Communication in the time of crisis must venture on a slippery slope: Geeta Rao

Geeta Rao analyses the much talked about made-at-home short film ‘Family’. Directed by Prasoon Pandey, the film stars the who’s who of India’s film industry and also uses a unique format of shooting and directing remotely amid the times of the nationwide lockdown.

As I write this, the film ‘Family’, directed by Prasoon Pandey, has crossed over 2 million views on YouTube. Comments range from smart viewers noticing the right hand-left hand switch in the Priyanka Chopra sequence, admiration for the Bachchan-Rajnikanth-Mammootty -Mohanlal coup, Rajnikanth’s signature moves, the fact that the glasses change style and so on, suggesting a high level of involvement while watching the film.

Prasoon has explained his film making in detail in an earlier interview with Adgully, which is essential reading for anyone interested in the way the film was conceived and edited. The film is definitely a wonderful case study in technique, production and editing, because it was done remotely, but the non-advertising viewer is making his or her own inferences and enjoying the result. One family tried making their own version, too, with a group of extended cousins. I always find the ‘Comments’ section a good way of judging the real way to judge the involvement and engagement in a piece of communication.

Watch: Family - A Made At Home Short Film

With the phalanx of superstars at his disposal, director Prasoon Pandey could have left it at that. A series of home videos strung together urging us to stay at home. That would have been eye candy yes, but very predictable and, as David Ogilvy said rather perceptively, “You can’t bore the consumer into buying your product.” You certainly can’t bore people into changing their behaviour.

Communication in the time of crisis must venture on a slippery slope. There are many sensitivities, so humour may backfire. There is real suffering and fear, so platitudes won’t work. The realisation that there are too many disenfranchised people at this time could mean that adding glossy visuals with bright happy shiny people may draw some criticism.

Having a dream list of celebrities is not without some disadvantages – celebrities can hijack communication very easily and can also draw flak, because they are seen at times like these as people of privilege. People have called out celebrities on social media for how much they chose to donate to relief work or whether they choose to comment or not on the situation. This is where ‘Family’ scores, and it is probably because Prasoon started with an idea rather than a celebrity wish list.

The fact that actors and stars had to get to work to shoot their own sequences gives us a nice peek into their lives. The fact that there is a device – a pair of travelling sunglasses – used to hook us and keep us going to the end, works . And once we know the end – the kahani main twist that everyone stayed socially distanced in their own homes and no virus transfer happened in the making, we can still spend some entertaining time watching it again for all the things we missed out in the first place, while we stay safely at home.

Finally, it is the closing of all loops that is so important in times like this. At no point do you want to take away that everyone had fun but there was no heart. The fact that the ‘Family’ is an extended one and there will be a fund to support daily wage earners and artists from the entertainment industry closed the loop for me and the film went beyond being just a public service message, albeit a very enjoyable one.

I do have a gender quibble though, because I always do. Two actually. One is – why is it that it is always the wife who must be summoned to find glasses and deliver them dutifully? Secondly, in the line-up of really famous male superstars from the South, why was there no female superstar? Nayantara, say my friends, would have fit the superstar bill. One viewer said, he would have loved to see the late Sridevi in the film, because she would have brought her own inimitable style to the ‘chashma’ moment. So would have Madhuri Dixit. However, this does not take away from the film. All it means is that there is room for an equally good sequel.

(The author is a Mumbai-based advertising and media professional.)

Also read:

Mega stars, humanity, backyard shoot - Inside story of Prasoon Pandey’s Family on SPN

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